Interview: Josh Abbott Band Are Ready for Their (National) Close-Up
The Josh Abbott Band's newest record, Front Row Seat, is a project that is as personal as it is ambitious. The concept album, which parallels (but isn't a 100-percent accurate portrayal of) frontman Josh Abbott's relationship with his now-ex-wife, from courtship to marriage to divorce, debuted in early November and earned the No. 1 spot on the all-genre Billboard Top Independent Albums chart, as well as a Top 10 spot on the Top Country Albums chart (No. 9). Both of those achievements are impressive, but Abbott says that he and the band "have a long ways to go with this album."
For the JAB, Front Row Seat's success is not simply about first-week sales, or even its sales to date, after nearly the first four months. Rather, the group is looking for long-term success on a national level and in a manner they've not previously achieved -- and they firmly believe that this project will be the one that gets them there.
"We want this to be an album that continues to sell and continues to stream," Abbott tells The Boot, noting that they'd like the record to be acquiring new fans even a year or two down the line. "... Our band is really focused on the long run."
Divided into five acts, Front Row Seat's 16 songs are meant to be listened to from beginning to end, as they're chronological not just lyrically, but musically as well. The disc begins with upbeat, fiddle-heavy tracks that represent both Abbott in college and the early days of the band. From there, listeners will hear mid-tempo ballads and material that reflects his and his wife's love story and sounds much like the Josh Abbott Band's previous work. The back half of the album, however, "enters a land that our band hasn't ventured into just yet in terms of sound, in terms of dark subject matter and tones," Abbott explains, and is where his relationship starts to go south.
The album, then, shows the evolution (and dissolution) of a marriage as well as the maturation and potential future of the six-piece band from Texas. Whereas the Josh Abbott Band's three previous full-length projects and one prior EP -- filled with "party anthems, Texas songs and love songs," according to Abbott -- earned them a solid fan base, Front Row Seat has earned -- and continues to earn -- them critical acclaim.
"... And you know what, rightfully so, because I think we were still a young band trying to figure it out," the frontman notes. "... Maybe we just weren't deep enough to be a critic darling, so to speak."
In addition to Abbott's own marital troubles, the loss of the group's major-label deal with Atlantic Records is, at least partially, responsible for that growth. The band's stint with Atlantic "definitely had its good parts as well as its bad," Abbott admits, but "there's no hard feelings or anything" about the split.
"In a good sense, it opened our eyes to the national world, and it opened their eyes to ours ...," he explains: Label executives and radio stations took notice and realized "[i]t was okay that we were from Texas, but we made music that worked across the country," while the band sharpened their imaged and learned "how the radio game works, the dos and don'ts."
But, "in the end, it won't really matter," Abbott muses. While the Josh Abbott Band recently signed with 1608 Promotion, Reviver Label Services' radio promotion division, "[u]s releasing this album on our own was the way it needed to be done."
While No. 1 and Top 10 albums are impressive and helpful in gaining a national audience, the band has yet to notch a Top 20 single -- but they're confident it will happen with the one-two punch of "Amnesia" and "Wasn't That Drunk," the latter of which is their current single from Front Row Seat.
In addition to earning the JAB national acclaim, "Wasn't That Drunk" has the potential to help break up-and-comer Carly Pearce, who guests on the tune. The 25-year-old was the group's No. 1 choice for the duet, "and she killed it," Abbott gushes. He predicts big things for the singer-songwriter -- sort of like when Kacey Musgraves, then relatively unknown, helped out on their 2011 single "Oh, Tonight."
"We've been fortunate to work with some acts that just -- we saw the potential in them early on ...," Abbott says of working with both Musgraves and Pearce. "I think ["Wasn't That Drunk"] presents radio with a very unique ability to introduce two artists to the mainstream."
"We feel like we made an album that, in my opinion, I don't know that we'll ever make a better one," Abbott admits. "We'll make great albums, but it'll be hard to beat the concept and just the overall feel of this record. It will be really hard for us to top that, I think."
Front Row Seat is available for download via iTunes.
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